KINGSTON, Jamaica, Tuesday April 3, 2018 – The Senate has unanimously approved two motions to extend the State of Public Emergency in parts of the parish of St Catherine until July 3.
All 16 members of the Senate who were present voted in favour of the Emergency Powers (No. 2) (Continuance) Resolution and the Emergency Powers (No. 2) Regulations (Continuance) Resolution. Five members were absent.
The Senate’s approval follows a similar nod given in the House of Representatives on March 27.
On March 18, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on March 18 that the State of Public Emergency had been declared in the St Catherine North Police Division.
Addressing the Senate, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister and Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, said the implementation of the enhanced security measures is a necessary and important step in the fight against crime, and is vital in preserving the rule of law and maintaining public order in the St Catherine North Police Division.
The Minister said police statistics show that the division had recorded the highest number of homicides this year with 48 persons being murdered between January 1 and March 18.
She noted that there were 136 murders in the division last year, and described that as “beyond unacceptable”.
Senator Johnson Smith reported that since the start of the State of Emergency, there have been no reports of murder or serious crimes, or abuse by the security forces in the Division.
“We want to make it clear that a State of Emergency is not synonymous with (nor) equivalent to a crime plan. We understand this and we think it is important for everyone to understand that there are areas which require extreme measures to ensure that law and order and public order (are) restored in a specific geographical area as part of the effort to stem rampant crime and criminality,” she said.
In this regard, the Minister thanked the citizens who have used the confidential lines to share information and encouraged others to continue doing so.
“It falls to us all as members of this society to play our part in the fight against crime. If you see a criminal activity, if you suspect criminal activity, report it, if you see something… say something,” she said.
Senator Johnson Smith also urged the wider society to join the Government in the fight against crime.
During the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and detain persons without a warrant.
It also gives them power to stop and question persons and seize property. Additionally, it allows them to control public gatherings and movements.
“These additional powers allow the security forces to be better able to stem the high crime levels in St. Catherine North,” Johnson-Smith said.
Meanwhile, Senator Johnson Smith said the other State of Emergency, in St James, has resulted in a drastic decline in crime in that parish.
Up to the March 1, 2018, St James recorded 59 fewer murders than the corresponding period last year.
“In addition to the 61 persons arrested and charged, some 523 offensive weapons, including 18 firearms and 351 rounds of ammunition, were seized. This is proof that the enhanced security measures have worked and can work when they are given the time to work. It is within this context that we believe the State of Emergency for St. Catherine north should similarly be given the chance to reduce crime in the Division,” the Minister added.
For his part, Opposition Senator Wentworth Skeffery said the Opposition supported the short-term emergency measures “because we understand that the country is at a crossroads”.
“We are also aware that this emergency measure cannot…last for a sustained period of time. So while we use it to stem the challenges, we now need to have social intervention programmes and deal with the order in our communities as we seek to rescue,” he said.
The Constitution provides that a period of Public Emergency can be declared by Proclamation if the Governor-General is satisfied that action has been taken by any person or persons that has threatened or is deemed threatening citizen security and public safety.
The Emergency Powers Act refers to the existence of a State of Public Emergency and empowers the Governor-General to make regulations during a period of Public Emergency.